Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Iraq elections (talking entry)

According to Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters), the Parliament today elected Jalal Talabani to the presidency, voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker and "Talabani then nominated Maliki to form a new government." They had to vote, first, on Speaker. That was al-Nujaifi and the two deputies -- Qusay al-Suhail and Aref Tayfoor. Nujaifi or Nejefi or Najafi is the brother of Nineveh Province Governor Atheel Nejefi who is part of al-Hadba Party. Following his 2009 election, he declared that they did not need the help of the Kurds in the province -- not for security, not for political partnership and that the borders being in question didn't mean they were for the Kurds to design (he's openly hostile to the Kurds and described as an Arab nationalist). He was the one leading one side of the repeated 2009 stand-offs over Mosul. In June of 2009, Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) observed:

In Iraq, everybody is paranoid and everybody has a reason to be so. In Nineeh, the capital of which is Mosul, the Sunni anti-Kurdish party al-Hadba won the provincial election in January and took over the local council. The Kurds are refusing to retreat from territory where they are in the majoirty. Last month the new al-Hadba governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Najafi, accompanied by some 50 police cars, tried to enter a Kurdish-held part of his province, and was turned back by Kurdish forces. They said they had received orders, though everybody denies issuing them, "to shoot to kill" if he persisted. Had they done so there would have been general slaughter.

In 2008, Sam Dagher (then with the New York Times) reported that Nouri had given support to Atheel al-Nujaifi -- apparently due to shared sentiments regarding the Kurds -- and also noted that Atheel was "a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.

The above all appeared in Thursday's snapshot. We just finished at Third. It was a nightmare, never-ending edition. Isaiah wanted to participate so I benched him for tonight. Going through the e-mails, I see a number of visitors with questions regarding the new Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.

Big question is why did he walk out on Thursday and why did he return? Those e-mailing seem confused. He's not really part of Iraqiya. He's a member of it. A non-sectarian party was the easiest way for him to run. But he and his family have always been close to Nouri. As Nouri was the American choice in 2006, al-Nujaifi was the Shi'ite choice for 2010. It's rather surprising that they went with that, Iraqiya. He was not a leader of Iraqiya but, as a Sunni and former Ba'athist, he really didn't have a great deal of alternatives. For American audiences, think Joe Lieberman before the 2006 primary. Prior to that he was identified as a Democrat but few members of the Democratic Party would argue that he did much to help the party.

Due to that, Osama al-Nufaifi was popular with Shi'ites and the Kurds went along with it after some initial discussion where they considered rejecting the choice due to the fact that he and his family are seen as incredibly anti-Kurdish. If that impression is strengthened by the way Osama runs the Parliament, look for Kurdish leadership to face some of the most difficult and stinging criticism thus far. The sort that could, in fact, allow the non-home grown Goran to be the serious challenger that the CIA was hoping it would be back in 2009.

Should Nouri al-Maliki be able to put together a cabinet in the designated time-frame, the Kurds may emerge as the biggest loser. Turning down the position of Minister of Oil to keep the presidency was a huge screw up. The two vice presidents were not an issue in the negotiations so the Kurds might have been smarter to have taken -- as offered -- the Speaker post and the Minister of Oil and insisted that they also be guaranteed a vice presidency. The presidency is a ceremonial post whose only real power is the ability to block legislation.

The vice presidents also have that power. When the election laws were being written for this go around, the world saw the Sunni vice president able to stop the process as least temporarily.

So if the concern was that losing the presidency meant no ability to object to the proposed laws, that was misplaced concern because a vice president slot would carry the same power.

So what it looks like is that Jalal's ego trumped Kurdish interests and should the Kirkuk census not take place at the start of next month -- as Nouri has promised or 'promised' -- the choices the Kurdish bloc made -- including to back Nouri and not someone from Iraqiya -- will look beyond politically stupid and come off to many Kurds as political suicide. Equally true, their decision to rebuff the White House -- specifically Barack -- will most likely result in less efforts to 'rescue' when "the Kurds come whining" according to one friend in the administration.

Who is the biggest loser right now? The Iraqi people. Nouri was able to utilize the power of the state to campaign for him. He was able to use the media, he was able to bribe -- both in soft bribes and in criminal bribes. Doing all of that still didn't let his slate get the most seats. He created State of Law because he thought he was all powerful and beloved. He refused to run with his own party or any alliance with them. And the results were a rejection of Nouri since Iraqiya managed to pull ahead of it -- managed to do so when some of their best known candidates were prevented from running, managed to do so when the entire slate was threatened repeatedly and publicly.

So the big losers are the Iraqi people.

Had the US supported Iraqiya, there might be an indication to the people that elections matter. Instead, in a country where elections have only recently become anything resembling so-called 'free' elections, the message was sent that, in the end, it didn't matter. Considering how many people resisted threats and 'warnings' to turn out and vote in the March elections, that's a horrible -- and democracy stunting -- message to send.

Contrast that with the US in 2004. Massive resistance to the Bush administration's policies led to large turnout. It wasn't enough to throw Bush out of the White House but it was the building block for the 2008 elections. Then 2010's midterms saw a rejection of Barack Obama leading some pundits to inist that 'the American people don't know what they want.' Reality, the American people have not received what they want and what they thought they were voting for.

Some might point to 2000 and how the Supreme Court ignored the Constitution -- which already had a way to resolve disputed election returns -- and issued their 'one time only' ruling awarding the presidency to George W. Bush. Some might point to that and say, "See, that spurred action on the part of the opposition." It did. The theft of the presidency did.

And while the theft that appears to be taking place in Iraq currently could spur action and activism in their next election, such an argument ignores the fact that the US had an established tradition of elections before 2000 while Iraq really just has the last five years -- unless you want to go back to the pre-Saddam era. (Which most Iraqis didn't live through but may be historically familiar. Iraq has a young population. The median age is 20.6 years old.)

If you look at the two national elections they've held (2005 and 2010), you see that the Sunnis largely boycotted the 2005 elections and large numbers later decided that was the wrong move. Which is why Sunnis turned out in such large numbers in 2010 (not all Sunnis voted for Iraqiya and some voted for State of Law -- not all of Iraqiya's votes came from Sunnis) while Shi'ites, unhappy with what had taken place since the last elections in 2005, elected to stay home in larger numbers than in 2005.

Had the US backed Iraqiya, the message would be in place that voting does matter.

Instead the US backed Nouri and underscored the message: Your vote doesn't count.

This isn't "And the war drags on . . ." This is a talking entry, a bonus one, since we don't have a comic from Isaiah tonight.

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